Mindful Movement / Exercise with Barre Instructor Jess Cadou

Mindful Movement / Exercise with Barre Instructor Jess Cadou

May is the month that reminds us to be mindful. To take a step back and refocus on slowing down... and becoming more mindful in our busy lives.  

This week, Beauty Food co-founder Libby Babet sat down with Jess Cadou, Barre Instructor, who has been dancing for over 20 years and knew from a very young age that she’d end up doing something outside the lines of the traditional 9-5. After years of refining her dance technique in a perfectionist environment, Jess found Barre Body and fell in love with the holistic approach, encouraging atmosphere and complete acceptance of every individual’s body.


So Jess, you have a background in a strict dance & ballet. Tell me a bit about how early you started and what your life of dance has looked like.

Okay, so I have been dancing my whole life. You first enrol in little baby jazz and tap and I guess when I was growing up, I always felt like I was a bit of an introvert... a little bit quieter. When I was dancing, I just felt like, oh, I really feel like myself. I felt like I was letting my body do the talking. I feel like I can express myself in this way. And I just formed this real deep love for it.

I always loved going to watch shows. The first show I ever saw was Lion King back in, I don't know how many years ago, maybe 20 years ago now. And at some point, as I kept the dancing up and developed the love and the technique, people would tell me "Jess, you should enrol in more classes, because you're really good. Why don't keep on going with this?" At some point I realised, oh, people actually make money from this. People do this as a career, maybe I could be one of those people!

I remember going to shows and particularly looking at women who were of colour and the diversity in shows, and it gave me that inspiration to be like, “oh, this is possible and I can do it, I can totally be her one day!”. At high school it was offered as a subject, so I took it up. When I finished high school, I was like, this is a thing. I am not going to go to uni. I'm going to see what I can do with dance. So I moved straight to Sydney and went into it full time. That's when I really embraced the ballet side and the technique. Growing up, when I was little, it was more jazz and tap, that kind of vibe. I loved ballet, because it was so clear to see your progression.

In the end, I did develop a bit of a perfectionist, almost toxic head space towards it, because I was so focused on that perfectionism. Our bodies in general, day to day, are so different and it really ties into our emotional self too. If you've had a bad day, then if you go to a gym class or if you go to a meeting or whatever, you're going to be a different person than when you were thriving on a particular day. And because I was training in dancing so much to work towards a particular goal, which actually ended up being Lion King... Not that I got it, I didn't actually get it, but I worked towards that for many, many hard years of my life.

It was a lot. The perfectionism really overtook. And coming now into a teaching headspace, where I've let go of the idea of being a professional dancer, where movement is still something that feels so natural to me and I do have so much experience in it. Moving into a teaching headspace is completely different. It's not at all about what it looks like. I'm obviously going to come around and make sure that your form is good, so that you're safe.

It's about how it feels, isn't it?

It's about how it feels. Movement is meant to be good. Movement is meant to make you feel good. Our body was designed to move. If it wasn't, we probably wouldn't have limbs and we probably wouldn't have any curves in our spine. We would just be a random torso on the desk, with maybe a head. But anyway, now it's about celebrating the love and how we feel when we move. And that is the opposite of that perfectionist dance headspace.

What was the transition like when you went from full-time dance school, full time preparing for something that was a big dream like that, to moving into movement, purely for exercise? Because I imagine that, although it is a relief in some ways, it possibly messes with your head as well?

Totally. It was all about healing for me. It was about, “how do I still do something that I love, which is movement, but how do I get out of that head space?” And it started off with letting go of dancing just for a little while. For a few months, I didn't go to any classes. I just went to boxing classes and developed a love for Pilates, which has similar shapes to what you find in ballet, but it's more holistic. It's more about how you involve the breath as a way to support yourself in the movement. It's really easy to modify. Again, it doesn't matter how you're feeling on the day, you can really make it work. You can do it any way. So yes, Pilates a lot; something that I spent a lot of time doing as a way to move myself. And taking a more holistic approach, getting out of my head more and just tuning into what my body was saying to me rather than all the chatter that was going on in there.

You don't have to be an athlete to tune into your body and be aware of what's going on in there. Anyone that is nervous about going to a class or thinking “oh, I can't go to the gym because I'm not fit or I'm not at a certain level”, it shouldn't be about that. It should be about, “I want to go to a class or I want to go to the gym or I want to take a walk or a run, because it makes me feel good”. I'm all about that now. And that's the healing part of it.

We're both in music immersed styles of training, where we don't just point and say, do this, do that. We're in there doing it with you, so you can see technique. We’re so immersed in the experience and the music, you're actually able to leave your ego at the door and kind of bring your alter ego in, which is what you were talking about before. You are actually allowing yourself to step in and be another person throughout that session, which I find is magic, don't you?

Exactly. And you're going with the flow. It's not accessible to everybody, depending on where you live and your schedule etc, but if you can get into a group environment and just feel that energy, it's so nice. Or even if you just put a playlist on in your room, bring a friend, bring your dog, bring your partner and just move together and just enjoy that time of lifting your heart rate ever so slightly and doing something that you enjoy. It's a good time.

Obviously there's been a lot of change for yourself and now you're guiding women and people in general, to really feel all those beautiful feelings you felt with dance, but without the pressure of it. Because we're talking Mindful Movement today, what's one of the most positive changes you've made in your own life since leaving that world of dancing, coming into the world of teaching and movement?

Again, it's definitely about that perfectionism and taking that not only from the way that I move my body, but in life in general. It's funny that, when I did my teacher training and I was offered a job at Barre Body, and I initially said no. And the reason I said no, was because I didn't think that I was good enough. I didn't think that I was at the level of these other teachers that I aspired to be. I just didn't think I was there yet. I didn't think that I was worthy to hold that space and guide people through movement. And so I said, no. And then an ad popped up and again, I ignored it. And then for the third time, someone else from Barre Body reached out to me and said, "Jess, we love your energy. We think you're great. You've been a client at Barre Body for ages. You've done the training. We think that you should join." And so I had to really take a moment to think, “okay, this has popped up to me three times now. The universe is trying to tell me something... So I need to just let go of this perfectionism and give it a crack.”

And one of the best things that I have experienced this year is the growth and what happens when you let go of that internal chat. You just surprise yourself week to week, and think “oh, I actually did get through that big task that I was super nervous about” or “I got through another class” or for people that work office jobs, “I smashed that presentation” or whatever it is. It's not always crispy, but as long as you bring your truest self to it, then that's all you can do. I'm so not about perfectionism anymore. I'm fighting it. It's a hard process to break. I’m trying to separate myself from it, day by day. It's a work in progress and you really need to be kind to yourself. That's another thing that I've learnt, to just be kind to myself and bring that to my movement practice.

The journey that you've described for yourself, is the journey that I personally see so many clients going through as they come in. Nervous, thinking they have to be perfect, that they have to go to three classes a day, that it’s all or nothing. It's not about overdoing it and it's not about being perfect, just stick to something you're going to enjoy and come for the fun of it and see where it leads. And often, that establishes a more mindful relationship with their movement. And two months down the track, they're doing one class every second day and having a blast and fitter than ever. So it's similar to your journey, right?

Totally. It's also about starting small. Even forget starting small, just start! Start from anywhere, from somewhere.. Just put on a video and start, follow along, if you get 10 minutes down the track and you're not vibing it, oh well, you did something. But as you progress, you'll get better and you'll really sit into it and enjoy it. We miss out by thinking, “oh, I'm not going to even try, because I feel like I have to be over here to start with”.

I love your story, because you've taken your knowledge from something that's professional and such a perfectionist's head space, you've learned a new way for yourself and now you're teaching it to others. And your energy is really, really beautiful. What are some of the ways that you bring mindfulness into your day or the ways you get yourself ready to teach a class, or your own movement practice?

100%. Something that I've really changed and drawn more attention to lately, is breath and breathing mindfully. I wouldn't say I'm a meditation expert. Absolutely not. And you know what? Meditation is a process. It's about, again, just starting from somewhere. I do have this kind of firecracker energy and as soon as I get into a studio, I just want to set up, put a proper playlist on, get myself geed up. But then clients come in early and I haven’t taken a second to breathe and hold space for myself. So for me, now I'm trying to consciously, as I walk into a studio or at some point in my day, if I'm really stressed, just have a moment. Step away, take a pause, breathe. Come back to my truest self.

One of the most essential things to life, is opening the airways for breath and then the pumping of the heart to keep the blood flowing. When you think about that, how amazing is it when you take time to focus on your breath and take time to move, to energise yourself, to increase that circulation… Is it a surprise that we feel so good when we're doing these things? I think it's just natural for us to focus on these things to feel our best. So we should be doing that more.

We have loads of super busy women and super busy moms that visit this page, one of the things that we work on for them is helping them to have healthier, easier snacks that they can actually take around. What are some of the things that you often say to clients that you find yourself repeating? Ways that you can help people connect more with their session or just make it to more classes or whatever it is that helps them set up their day? What are some tips that you pass on?

Well firstly, I would say again, just start small. Over COVID, everything went online. And so when you're busy, it can be a bit tricky to make it into a class or make it into a studio. Embrace all of these beautiful resources that are available online. And it could literally be a 10 minute video. It doesn't have to be a huge hoo-ha event. As long as you are taking some time in your day to come back to yourself, to do something for yourself. Because at the end of the day, you can't give from an empty cup.

It's tricky to be your best self when you're feeling low or depleted. When you are so busy, that's the time to dedicate and be like,” okay, 6AM on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I'm going to dedicate half an hour to myself.” If you've got kids running around, let them come and join you. Involve them in the process! Maybe switch from Pilates to Wiggles and dance along with them. It doesn't have to be super serious. Don't take yourself too seriously with movement, because again, it's about joy. It's going to be hard to do a half hour workout if you're thinking, “oh god, I've got to slug it out. And then afterwards, I've got to go to a meeting…” and so on. Just make it fun. Just allow yourself to let go.

One of the reasons I love what we do, is movement allows people to have that escape and that little shake up. And you've certainly got a beautiful energy to take people on the journey, and that's so nice to see. I love that thought of bringing your truest self. Showing up as your true self to something, because that's always when you have the most fun. It's always when you get the best results, whether it's at work or at play. So, where can we find you? How do people take a class with you? How do people find you online? Where are you hanging out?

Okay. So, I work at a beautiful studio called Barre Body. Please come see me, it's a vibe, if you're in Sydney. And it's just the most... The energy there, the community. We have a lot of Mums too, that we teach. And they're the ones that inspire me. Honestly, I'm inspired by everybody. But when I see a Mum just move for the love of it, just taking time out for herself, it makes me truly happy. And on Instagram, it's @jesscasually - come say hi. Slide into my DMs.

And lastly, what class do you recommend? What's your fave?

I am a cardio queen. I love cardio, so please come to me! I teach dance cardio as well. You don't have to be a dancer to come to dance cardio. Just follow along, let go, have a good time!